Whether the diagnosis has come for a man or a woman, if your spouse has been diagnosed with cancer, you can feel like your whole world has turned upside down.
What you never expected or never even wanted to happen has just become a reality and it can be a big shock. There are, however, many things that you can do to make the process easier for both of you.
- Move through that initial shock together. Hold each other – hugs are so healing and both of you will be needing them. Cry if you need to. The most important thing you can give your spouse right now is your love, to let them know that no matter what happens, you’ll get through it together. If that initial stage of shock takes several weeks, try not to fight it. Honor where you are and how you’re feeling. It takes however long it takes. But know that your spouse needs an emotional anchor, and you’re it, whether you like it or not.
- Be there and be strong. Your spouse needs you now more than ever. Just realize that they might not be so much fun to be with all the time. Please don’t give into the temptation to hide from the situation by getting busier with work, hobbies, or other things that keep you away from them. You’re going to encounter some tough times – supporting someone who’s going through chemotherapy is not easy. But they’ll remember what you did for them later.
- At work. Look into your options for taking time off in case you need to care for your spouse. There may be different options depending on your place of employment as well as your state or local laws. Your human resources department should be able to point you in the right direction. Tell your supervisor in advance that you may need to take a leave of absence.
- Be sure to look after yourself too. Right at first you’ll be fine, but at some point, you’re probably going to feel like hell. Go get a massage, hang out with a friend for an hour – do whatever you need to do to keep yourself strong. Carergiver Syndrome is a very real thing and you don’t want it!
- Listen to your spouse. This may be the most important thing you can do for them right now. You know your spouse better than anyone else, and you trust each other. Listen to their fears, worries and concerns with love. Understand that neither of you may have the right words to talk about these things – you may have some awkward moments, and you may have to agree with each other that any words (even if they are not the “right” ones) are better than no words.
- Go with your spouse to appointments as often as you can. Be an advocate. Though your spouse may be a strong person, a person with cancer is often in no shape to battle hospital bureaucracies, thoughtless medical personnel, or anyone else. Make it your job to take their side and ask questions until you get answers. Even the best medical care personnel get too busy or distracted, so if/when that happens, you need to make sure your spouse gets the care they need. Also two sets of listening ears are always better than one.
- Help organize medical appointments and paperwork. Do your best to keep track of doctor’s appointments, prescriptions, hospital bills, test reports, and the hundreds of other pieces of paper that is engendered by cancer treatment. Someone with “chemo brain” will definitely be relieved not to have to keep track of them.
- Communicate with family and friends. They will want to know what’s happening, even though some of them may react strangely and not at all as you expected. Don’t judge them, some people just can’t handle sickness. Since this whole process can take awhile, consider setting up a blog, an email list, a Facebook page, or some other communication network to keep friends and family informed of your spouse’s progress without having to share news repeatedly with each individual.
- Know you are not alone – most will want to help. This isn’t always the case but if you let people know that you need some help, they are usually only too willing to jump in and help however they can. Choose people you know you can trust. Try to give people something they can do even if it is something simple like bringing food to share when they come to visit or mowing the lawn or chopping up vegetables for the juicer.
- Be patient during chemotherapy. Everyone knows that chemotherapy can cause nausea, but it can also cause food to taste strange – it may taste metallic or bitter. Gently encourage your spouse to eat whatever he/she can. Ask what tastes good and find a way to cook it or get it. Don’t be troubled if your spouse’s preferences change overnight and know that this won’t last forever!
- Keep yourself well. Wash your hands regularly and carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer for use when you’re out and about. While your spouse is going through chemotherapy their immune system will be low and you’ll need to exercise extra care. Avoid people who have an illness.
- Try to carry on as normal. There is something comforting about routine, even in the midst of cancer. Cancer doesn’t mean the world has to grind to a halt. If you and your spouse have normal routines and things you enjoy doing, try to keep them up as much as possible. But always be sensitive to fatigue, emotional stress, or other reasons for not doing things you normally do, and give into the needs of your spouse when you need to.
- Don’t leave. Regardless of the state of your relationship, this is the absolutely worst thing you can do to your spouse at this vulnerable time. A person can get over cancer, but they will never get over the deep and lasting emotional injury you will inflict if you abandon them now. And neither will you. Don’t do it. Stay, even if you’re not that happy with the situation. Once your spouse is well again, then you can make that heavy decision.
- Reconnect with your spiritual beliefs. Whether you believe in prayer or meditation, your spiritual beliefs are going to help you get through this. You and your spouse will need a lot of resources to win this battle, more than you can get together on your own. Don’t neglect your spirituality in this fight. It can connect you with the source of your greatest strength.
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